Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)

Director: Kim Jee-woon
Writer: Kim Jee-woon, Kim Min-suk
DP: Lee Mo-gae
Editor: Nam Na-yeong
Producer: Kim Jee-woon, Choi Jae-won
Score: Dalparan, Jang Young-gyu
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung
Distribution: CJ Entertainment
Length: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly takes place in America, but was shot in Spain and directed by an Italian. It portrays the frontier as little more than an arid hell, and makes little distinction between the two sides of the American Civil War, even going as far as to include a scene in which Union soldiers are covered in dust and mistaken for Confederates. Despite Leone's interest in American history, his film is completely detached from the notion of the frontier in American cinema.

Like its namesake, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is detached. It takes place in Manchuria during an era of political tension between the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean presences there. The film's main character, Yoon Tae-Goo (the Weird), repeatedly expresses that he doesn't care much about politics or the political implications of his actions. He comes into possession of a map that could supposedly advance the political ends of whichever group gets their hands on it, but he decides to use it for personal gain.

Park Do-won and Park Chang-yi (the Good and the Bad, respectively) are also out for personal gain, but are slightly more politically-minded than Yoon. They both favor Korea over China and Japan, resenting any business that advances the cause of either over Korean interests; Yoon, on the other hand, left his home behind, and is even willing to pretend to be Chinese to defend himself. Over the course of the film, they essentially follow Yoon into an apolitical plane.

Yoon's concern for his personal life draws him away from politics, and the Good and the Bad go with him in their respective pursuits of money and revenge. Every other character is either politically motivated or politically opportunistic, but the film dispassionately treats them as obstacles. This makes the main trio seem almost superhuman, as does the film's mixing of western gunplay with elaborate choreography reminiscent of Hong Kong martial arts films. What's more, it's almost as effective an adventure film as an action film for the variety of different locations and cultural aesthetics at play, and for the sense of scale it captures in the desert.

It's apolitical, specifically in a way that pulls its audience away from politics, leading some scholars to say it lends itself to a nonnationalistic view of colonialism in Manchuria - and this is inextricably linked to just how entertaining it is. It fulfills Kim Jee-Woon's stated goals: to make a "truly entertaining genre film," and for that film to be a "unique Korean western."

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